GOP Medicare Proposal Doesn’t Work Like Members of Congress’ Health Care as Republicans Claim

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 27, 2011. The Center for American Progress has previously pointed out that the House Republican budget for fiscal year 2012 forces future beneficiaries out of Medicare into more expensive private plans. One of the ways Republicans are trying to sell their Medicare proposal is by claiming that beneficiaries would “be enrolled in the same kind of health-care program that members of Congress enjoy.” That claim is false. In fact, if the rate of growth under this Medicare proposal were applied to federal employees’ most popular health option, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Option, federal workers, including members of Congress, with family coverage would have to pay another $3,330 for the care they enjoy today. Those with individual coverage would have to pay another $1,555.

Most federal workers receive their health coverage through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, or FEHBP. The government contributes a portion of their health premium. That portion is set by law and applied to the weighted average of actual premiums charged in any given year. Beneficiaries make up the rest of the cost.

The Republican budget replaces the traditional fee-for-service Medicare for future beneficiaries with a voucher to private insurance companies that is established on very different terms. Unlike FEHBP, which has a consistent government contribution based on actual premiums charged in any given year, the amount of the voucher is determined independent of actual premiums. Its growth is instead tied to the rate of the consumer price index for all urban consumers, or CPI-U. Because health costs have typically increased faster than inflation, the level of government support from the voucher would become a lower share of actual premium costs over time. In other words, Medicare beneficiaries would be left holding the bag.

What would happen if FEHBP operated like the GOP Medicare proposal?

We examined what would happen if FEHBP had operated like the Republican Medicare proposal over the last decade. We used data from the Office of Personnel and Management to look at the annual premiums for federal workers enrolled in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Service Benefit Plan (Standard Family and Standard Individual). We chose this plan because nearly 60 percent of those enrolled in FEHBP have Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the Standard Option is the most popular FEHBP plan. We increased government support for the individual and family plans by the rate of growth in the CPI-U index from 2002 to 2011. We then compared the difference between the government’s share and the actual total premium in each year—which is the amount the beneficiary would pay—under the Republican proposal and the real FEHBP.

The result: A typical federal worker, or member of Congress, enrolled in family coverage in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Option, would have had to pay an additional $3,330.36 for the same level of coverage they have today. Those with individual coverage would have had to pay $1,555 more.

Nicole Cafarella is the Payment Reform Project Manager and Policy Analyst, and Tony Carrk is a Policy Analyst for American Progress.